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Long Island beaches, lakes and more: Fun ways to enjoy the water

Long Island summers are made to be spent by the shore. Beyond the (many) gorgeous beaches and boating marinas, you’ll find waterside concerts, guided sails, family-friendly tours and plenty of destinations that stay alive after dark. Landlubbers can stick to dry land — watching an amazing sunset over the Long Island Sound or tucking into an alfresco lobster picnic from the docks. Here are the best...

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Long Island summers are made to be spent by the shore. Beyond the (many) gorgeous beaches and boating marinas, you’ll find waterside concerts, guided sails, family-friendly tours and plenty of destinations that stay alive after dark. Landlubbers can stick to dry land — watching an amazing sunset over the Long Island Sound or tucking into an alfresco lobster picnic from the docks. Here are the best ways to explore Long Island’s shores this summer.

Go crabbing in East Rockaway or Babylon

Blue crab season unleashes a summer boon of fun along Long Island’s shores by people who know the open secret about crabbing: It’s easy and inexpensive. You don’t need a boat -- the action is just as good from a dock. Nor do you need much equipment — just a wire box trap and some bait (simple raw chicken or bunker works over and over), or a net and a bucket if you’re hunting with your eyes. Or a piece of strong string and a chicken leg. (While you may not need a state license to do recreational crabbing, you should be aware of the minimum size and daily limits on catches.)

Among the hot spots: Nassau County residents have Bay Park in East Rockaway, where you can try your luck from the bulkhead by the launch ramp (516-571-7245, nassaucountyny.gov). In Suffolk, crabbers flock to the piers at Captree State Park in Babylon — just know that if you’re going at the most popular time — after dark — you’ll need a state-issued night fishing license to park (631-669-0449, parks.ny.gov).

Hit the boardwalk in Long Beach

It’s hardly just a place to stretch your legs — Long Beach’s famous 2.2-mile boardwalk has enough diversions to fill an afternoon. Residents and day-trippers alike can rent bikes from several kiosks ($8 an hour, sobilongbeach.com). As for concessions, they’ve been confirmed to be returning for the Summer of 2018, so watch for announcements from the city on what’s coming back, what’s new and where you can find it (longbeachny.gov).

Pick your own lobster in Island Park

A fresh lobster dinner is practically a rite of summer, perhaps no more so than at Jordan Lobster Farm in Island Park, where the seafood market has been a mainstay since 1938. Pick your pleasure, whether that’s a standard 1 1/4 pounder or a meatier four-pound behemoth. It used to be that you took your dinner to-go or sat at a picnic table outdoors, but the newly expanded backyard bar deck makes the experience more fun with live music and prime views of the canal and the retro Ferris wheel from the old Nunley’s Amusement Park, which now resides on Barnum Island (516-806-6251, jordanlobsterfarms.com).

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Go to Jones Beach State Park — at night

Long Island’s most popular park draws 6 million to 8 million visitors a year. While most come for the rollicking summer beach scene, there’s a whole different vibe after dark.

Near the Central Mall, the boardwalk hums with nightly free summer entertainment in the bandshell — live music, outdoor movies and more (late June-Labor Day weekend; jonesbeachbandshell.com). Lighted game courts beckon couples and families to play a round of shuffleboard, paddleball or miniature golf ($5). Across the way, Fields 4 and 5 get busy with the nighttime concert crowd there to see an alfresco show at the outdoor amphitheater (now called Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater; livenation.com). It’s not unusual to see tailgaters in lawn chairs on the grassy swatch near Zach’s Bay, picnicking within earshot of the marquee act (free parking after 4 p.m. Mon-Fri, 6 p.m. Sat-Sun and holidays; 516-785-1600, parks.ny.gov/parks/jonesbeach).

Spend happy hour on the Nautical Mile in Freeport

Freeport’s Woodcleft Avenue is a destination come summer, when the waterside stretch of bars and restaurants hum with patrons eager to sit outdoors and savor the weather. Sure, you can go for dinner — steak and seafood spots abound — but the Nautical Mile is also well done as a happy hour tour. Spots such as Hudson’s on the Mile (340 Woodcleft Ave.; 516-442-5569, hudsonsonthemile.net) have outdoor patios and live music, while the newly opened BrewSA brewery (180 Woodcleft Ave.; 516-377-2751, brewsa.com) offers tasting flights and snacks in a garage-like space.

More involved are two-hour Wednesday night sunset cruises aboard the Captain Lou Fleet that include a cash bar and DJ (sails at 7 p.m. June 20-Sept. 5, $25; 516-623-5823, captloufleet.com).

Take a sunset sail in Oyster Bay

Go sailing without having to do any of the hard work — unless you want to — aboard the 40-foot Cristeen at The Waterfront Center in Oyster Bay. Weeknight sunset sails are particularly relaxing, offered Tuesdays through Thursdays (except Aug. 9) at 6 p.m. ($30; 516-922-7245, thewaterfrontcenter.org).

Hail a water taxi in Port Washington

Take a personal cruise around Manhasset Bay aboard the Port Washington Water Taxi’s touring vessel. Thirty-minute tours ($10 adults, $5 ages 12 and younger) are an easy way to get a taste of cruising on the water; more involved are hour-long cruises around the bay ($20 adults, $10 kids; 516-455-0411, portwatertaxi.com).

Swim with a club in Lloyd Harbor

Give in to the lure of serious ocean swimming — in the safety of an organized group — with an open-water swim club. Groups meet weekly during the season to swim en masse, and some clubs host race days, too. The West Neck Pod meets weekend mornings at the Town of Huntington’s West Neck Beach, where newbies are paired with a more experienced member to get started (facebook.com/westneckpod).

The South Shore has its own club — Open Water Swim Long Island — that meets to swim in either the waters off the Fire Island Lighthouse or at Heckscher State Park in East Islip ($18 for non-members; 516-356-5306, openwaterswimli.com).

Rock the bay at the Huntington Lighthouse Music Festival

Long Island’s only floating concert is scheduled to return this year. The 2017 edition ended up getting cancelled but the folks at the Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society say the program is indeed back on, slated for Saturday, Sept. 1 and will incorporate a barge for performance purposes. Patrons — as many as 12,000 — come by private or partyboat, kayak, canoe or inflatable raft to hear bands play back-to-back from late morning until sunset. Roving bands of volunteer teen “pirates” troll the waters, collecting donations that fund the lighthouse’s ongoing restoration ( huntingtonlighthouse.org).

Take the kids to Cow Harbor Park in Northport

Northport has all the makings for a family-friendly day trip: a quaint, walkable village lined with shops and restaurants, children’s shows at the restored John W. Engeman Theater (250 Main St.; 631-261-2900, engemantheater.com). But just try tearing young kids away from the waterside Cow Harbor Park, where there’s a large, gated playground with a soft sand bottom. Get a takeout lunch of Maroni’s oh-so-popular meatballs (they come in a lidded, enamelware pot) and dig in at one of the small tables in the park while you watch sailboats in the harbor. Then it’s off to Wolfies Frozen Custard (42 Woodbine Ave.; 631-754-4850, wolfiescustard.com. Cash only.) or Copenhagen Bakery (75 Woodbine Ave.; 631-754-3256, copenhagenbakery.net) across the street for buttery, storemade cookies and flaky pastries.

Watch the sun set over Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai

On a clear summer night, nothing beats an idyllic sunset. For a great view in a beautiful setting, head to the Town of Brookhaven’s Cedar Beach. Set up on the sand or stake your claim early to a prime spot on the deck of the Cedar Beach Restaurant and Concessions (launches for 2018 on Friday, May 18) for a front-row view as the sun slips below the horizon, as well as occasional live music weekends from 6 p.m.-9 p.m. (631-743-9410, brookhavenny.gov).

Try flyboarding in Blue Point

As far as water sports go, flyboarding is extreme, but accessible. The experience is a bit like wakeboarding or water skiing with moon boots — except you’re shooting up into the air over the water. Flyboard LI runs lessons and rentals in and above the waters of Blue Point (from $79; 347-549-5260, flyboardli.com).

Go alfresco in Copiague

Tanner Park’s open-to-all waterside bandshell is an ethereal setting for a summer show. There, with the Great South Bay as a backdrop, you can hear free live music as the sun goes down or perhaps see an outdoor movie. The showstopper is Lumiere Ballet’s annual summer production — “Tenth Anniversary at Tanner Park” for 2018 (7:30 p.m., Aug. 25-26) — the costumes, music and scenery are always transporting (631-893-2100, townofbabylon.com).

Fish by day — or night — at Captree

Reel one in any day of the week aboard fishing boats that make full- or half-day trips out to the Great South Bay from Captree State Park in Babylon. Trips start at $39 and include rods, bait, how-tos and even filleting of your catch. You’ll want a reservation for niche expeditions — like the Laura Lee’s 11 p.m.-3 a.m. fish-all-night — but, in most cases, you can just show up and walk aboard.
What’s more, many of Captree Fleet’s vessels make sightseeing cruises, including trips to see the July Fourth fireworks at Jones Beach from the water (631-669-6464, captreefleet.com).

Let your dog swim at Gardiner Park in Bay Shore

Dog runs abound on Long Island, but it’s tricky to find a public place where Fido can take a dip in the ocean. Gardiner Park in Bay Shore caters to four-leggers with several paths for leashed walks. The most popular is a straight shot right down to the Great South Bay. There’s hardly a greater pleasure than watching dogs frolic in the calm, shallow waters. Word to the wise: Bring towels for the car ride home (631-854-0935).

Go behind the scenes at Fire Island Lighthouse

Little-known fact: You can take a deeper dive into the inner workings of the Fire Island Lighthouse on a behind-the-scenes tour. Held only a handful of times a year and limited to only 12 people, visitors make rounds with the lighthouse keeper for a bottom-to-top-of-the-tower experience that lasts more than two hours. Reservations required (June 9, Sept. 8, Oct. 6, Nov. 10 and Dec. 8; $20, members $15 ).

Also consider: The lighthouse stays open later July through Labor Day (tower closes at 6). It’s a less-crowded way to appreciate the lighthouse’s unusual vantage point — and sets the stage for a gorgeously lit mile-long walk back to your car afterward as the sun sets ($8 adults, $4 ages 12 and younger; 631-661-4876, fireislandlighthouse.com).

Watch the sunrise at Sunken Meadow State Park

Take a slice of tranquility for yourself with an early-morning trek at this North Shore park. Head straight to the 3⁄4-mile boardwalk to do laps as the sun comes up, with company ranging from early-morning fisherman to open-water swimmers ($10 parking begins at 7 a.m. weekends and holidays, 8 a.m. weekdays May 26-Sept. 9; 631-269-4333, parks.ny.gov).

Make 'Sunday Funday' in Ocean Bay Park

Ending the weekend on a good note is an all-day pursuit on Fire Island, where Sunday afternoons bring day boaters and ferry-goers who want nothing more than to hang out for hours. The biggest scene is at Flynn’s — a DJ and reggae band fuel a tropical summer beach party that starts at noon and is still going strong after dark (631-583-5000, flynnsfireislandny.com).

Take a weekday day-cation at Ocean Beach

If you’ve got a few hours, you can make a getaway — even on a weeknight — to Fire Island’s popular no-cars-allowed village. Take the short ferry ride from Bay Shore ($19 round trip, fireislandferries.com) and admire the corral of red wagons locked near the dock — the summer sharehouse crowd uses them to cart supplies to and from the ferry. Pick a walkway to make your way down to the beach. Then it’s time to browse the beachy shops before choosing a restaurant (many offer fixed-price menus during the week). If you get too comfortable, you’ll miss the last ferry back to the mainland and get a taste of the night life.

Visit the Sunken Forest at Sailors Haven

This is a different side of Fire Island: quiet, remote and intriguing. It’s novel enough that a full forest of 40-foot holly trees has been growing for centuries, surrounded by the saltwater of the Atlantic and Great South Bay — but it’s an anomaly that this particular forest also has freshwater wetlands that grow mushrooms, ferns and flora.
You can walk the trails to explore the forest area on your own, but National Seashore rangers take visitors along the wooded boardwalk for a free hourlong tour to more fully explain the marvels that make the Sunken Forest one of only two such ecosystems in the world (Saturdays and Sundays: May 19-July 1 from 11:15 a.m.-1 p.m.; 631-597-6183, nps.gov/fiis).

Jam at the Great South Bay Music Festival

July 12-15 of 2018 will provide a seriously big round of sound in Patchogue — that’s when the annual Great South Bay Music Festival rolls into town. And humble it’s not. More than 60 acts hold forth on four stages in Shorefront Park, surrounded by food trucks, craft vendors and a kids' zone with its own entertainment. Among performances from internationally known bands like Little Feat, Less Than Jake and Sublime with Rome, the four-day fest will also include acts who call Long Island home like Oogee Wawa, Miles to Dayton, Kerry Kearney and Danny Kean ($36.50-$143 a day; greatsouthbaymusicfestival.com).

Ride an oyster sloop in West Sayville

There’s a lot to learn about Long Island’s deep maritime history — from whaling and shipwrecks to shellfishing and boating. Explore it all in the waterside Long Island Maritime Museum’s nine outbuildings, where you can see a bayman’s cottage from the 1800s, a boat-building shop and even ride on the Priscilla, a restored 1888 oyster dredging sloop that makes two-hour cruises from its dock at the nearby Snapper Inn in Oakdale (Adults: Tues-Thurs: $45 adults, Fri-Sun: $75 adults; ages 12 and younger always $20; 631-447-8679). Don’t miss the museum’s annual Pirate Festival, June 17-18. Regular museum admission is $8 adults, $6 younger than 12 (631-854-4974, limaritime.org).

Pilot a skiff in East Moriches

Never captained a powerboat? You don’t need any experience to operate a skiff or dory. The small, shallow motorized boats are designed for puttering around bay waters to fish or clam. Holding four to six people and some gear (don’t forget lunch), they can be rented for the day at spots like Silly Lily Fishing Station, pictured ($80-$150; 631-878-0247, sillylily.com).

Taste wine by the water in Southold

Old Field Vineyard looks the part of a 100-year-old country farm, with its old barn/chicken coop tasting room and scenic backyard, sprinkled with picnic tables. Look further and you’ll see the real secret: It’s on waterfront. Come summer, book a bayside tasting and you’ll be set up at a table with a view of Peconic Bay and led through tastings of five sustainably grown wines with a cheese plate and $10 credit toward wine purchase. Reservations required (select summer weekends at noon and 3 p.m., $50; 631-765-0004, theoldfield.com).

Cruise by the lighthouses in Greenport

There are many standing lighthouses off Long Island’s shores — and each has its own story. Take “Bug” light — a two-story Victorian-style lighthouse atop a sandbar off Orient, pictured. It’s a replica of the original 1870 tower that was torched by arsonists in 1963. Or Little Gull, situated where Long Island and Block Island sounds meet.

The East End Seaport Museum organizes 2- to 3-hour touring cruises on weekends in summer and early fall that give visitors a glimpse of the beacons that can be seen only from the water ($39-$49 adults, $19-$29 ages 3-15; 631-477-2100, eastendseaport.org).

Find horseshoe crabs — by flashlight — at Pikes Beach in Westhampton

Take the kids on a nighttime hunt for horseshoe crabs in an excursion that’s part science and part adventure. Volunteers help researchers count and tag the large, spider-like creatures found on sandy beaches in a state-led effort to monitor the species.

Since the counting is done at night during high tides (new and full moon evenings, May through July), hours can vary from an 8 p.m. start to gatherings that get going in the wee hours of 1 or 2 a.m. Sessions typically last less than two hours. You don’t need any experience, just a pair of waterproof shoes and a flashlight (631-288-8014, nyhorseshoecrab.com).

Rate the sand at Coopers Beach in Southampton

Some say Coopers is the best beach on Long Island. Is it the pristine white sand? The gorgeous, white-capped waves lolling in, just so? The coastline view that seems to stretch for miles? You be the judge. But come early — parking costs $50 for the day, and the lot often fills by noon. You can rent beach umbrellas or chairs ($10-$15), and a large concession stand offers more than the requisite fries and hot dogs (268 Meadow Ln.; 631-283-0247, southamptonvillage.org).

Slow down for a day on Shelter Island

The small island sandwiched in the bay between the North and South forks has a personality that’s all its own, and it offers much for day-trippers to explore. It’s best to take the short-hop car ferry from Greenport or Sag Harbor. Set off for Sylvester Manor (80 N. Ferry Rd.; 631-749-0626, sylvestermanor.org), an educational farm that dates to 1652, where tours are open to the public on several days this summer ($25) or by appointments for $30 a person (for a minimum of six people; online reservations recommended). Stop at the Shelter Island Public Library (37 N Ferry Rd.; 631-749-0042, shelterislandpubliclibrary.org) to choose from its index of heirloom plant and vegetable seeds to take home to your garden.

Visit 'The End'

Long Island’s easternmost point is a retro-cool surfer beach town and hipster tourist magnet. The village has a stretch of souvenir shops and come-as-you-are eateries, all within walking distance of beachside motels — to do it right, consider spending at least one night so you’ll have a place to park and more time to explore. Paddleboard/kayak tours and surfing lessons are available, and a few miles outside town, the picturesque Montauk Point Lighthouse is a must-see. If you skip the tower climb, don’t miss the short trail that leads down to a rocky beach, where you’ll have an even better vantage point for great photos (montauklighthouse.com).